The disjointed debate

Here’s what’s going to happen today: Republicans and many in the media will look at the weak job numbers and argue that it’s evidence that President Obama’s economic policies aren’t working. Here’s what’s not going to happen today: a public discussion about the extent to which President Obama’s economic policies aren’t even being tried.

The political dynamic has changed quite a bit since the early spring, when Republican leaders were eager to take credit for the positive numbers they had nothing to do with. Needless to say, GOP officials are no longer claiming responsibility, and are in fact now eager to point fingers everywhere else. It’s a nice little scam Republicans have put together: when more jobs are being created, it’s proof they’re right; when fewer jobs are being created, it’s proof Obama’s wrong. Heads they win; tails Dems lose.

In case anyone’s forgotten, the GOP whining is misguided — whether they want to admit it or not, the economy is advancing as they want it to. The private sector is being left to its own devices; the public sector is shedding jobs quickly; and lawmakers are focused on debt-reduction.

This is the script the GOP wrote. When it’s followed to the letter, Republican complaints are absurd.

I understand the politics. Obama’s the president, so if the economy stinks, Republicans want voters to think it’s his fault. But in order for this to make sense, the administration would have to be getting its way when it comes to economic policy.

But that’s simply not the case. I’m reminded of this Greg Sargent post from a couple of months ago.

No hiring surge is going to happen until Obama and Dems actually agree to do it their way in policy terms.

No hiring surge will happen until that job killing stimulus spending winds down; until Dems allow Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts on the rich; until Dems agree to deep cuts to Federal programs; until municipal governments are forced to cut back and fend for themselves; until Dems embrace the notion that government must tighten its belt to restore business confidence; and until Dems begin seriously basing their policy response to unemployment on the conservative idea that if we only reduce the deficit, a thousand economic flowers will bloom. Only then we’ll see the surge in employment we’re all waiting for.

Oh, wait…

The message Republicans will be emphasizing — today and over the next year — is that we should try things their way. But we already are, and no one’s satisfied with the results.

Indeed, arguably one of the most dramatic Democratic dilemmas of 2011 and 2012 is overcoming the realization that Republicans are getting their way on economic policy and then denying any responsibility for the results. Indeed, it’s a rather extraordinary con: GOP officials see much of their agenda implemented, then see it fail, and then blame Obama when their policies don’t work.

It’s not too late. We can boost public investments. Republicans can stop killing meaningful jobs bills. We can stop pretending spending cuts will create jobs. We can prevent public-sector layoffs (nearly a quarter million public-sector jobs have been lost, on purpose, thanks entirely to spending cuts, this calendar year).

Under ideal circumstances, the president would come up with an economic plan and execute it. If the agenda succeeded, he’d get the credit. If it faltered, Republicans would call him on it. Voters could evaluate the results and decide whether to keep the president around or go back to GOP economic policies.

But those circumstances are nowhere to be found. Rather, we’re stuck looking in this funhouse-mirror in which Republicans block Democratic economic policies, and then condemn the policies for failing.